By Larry Carroll
One of the most in-demand races of this spring is quickly gaining a high profile … because it has such a low profile.
It is called the Nine Trails 35 Mile Endurance Run, and although it has been around in some form for nearly thirty years, in most years it tends to play a minor role in the ultra-marathon ecosystem. This year, however, some of the sport’s most high-profile athletes have signed up for the March 23rd event — and the eyes of marathoners worldwide are suddenly focusing on Santa Barbara, California.
Race director Luis Escobar is touting the Nine Trails as having the most impressive entrance list in the country, and looking over the docket it seems tough to argue the point. Jim Walmsley, Sandi Nypaver, Tim Freriks, Cat Bradley, Cody Reed and many more are among those planning to run -and hoping the fire and flood damaged trails permit a great run for athletes of all different ability levels.
“Lots of things play into (running the race),” Walmsley tells Trail Runner magazine . “March is a nice time of year—without big options—and this is a distance that you can use to build into April and May races, where there are notoriously a lot of big race options.”
Although it is a 35-mile run, the Nine Trails makes a lot of sense for ultra-marathoners accustomed to running greater distances. Event organizers say experienced runners often remark that it runs like a tough 50 miler, thanks to steep, rocky and long trails. Featuring more than 10,000 vertical feet of gain and descent, athletes must also be accustomed to long, slow sections with very little support.
Oh yeah, the view also helps. In all of North America, it’s hard to find a more beautiful place than Santa Barbara, and Nine Trails promises big climbs with big views. The race covers the Jesusita Trailhead to Romero Canyon and back, following the picturesque Santa Barbara front country trail system across creeks, canyons and catwalks.
“It’s hard to find a mountain race in the spring,” Nypaver tells Trail Runner. “It was great to see a competitive field shape up for Nine Trails—a race that’s more my style—and for the race to take place in the earlier part of the year.”
Created by local trail-runner Patsy Dorsey in 1990, Nine Trails gained a reputation as a challenging race in a beautiful place. Since Escobar took over in 2004, it has continued to grow in size and scope.
Also, the race seems to be intensifying its stakes. According to Bradley, another race may conflict — but if she does indeed make it to Santa Barbara, it will be to make good on a wager with the race director.
“Nine Trails and I have a long history,” she says. “The only reason I signed up was because Luis and I made a bet. If I beat his fastest time on the course, he has to get my face and Nine Trails official time tattooed on his chest.”